When will we go back to “normal”?

“When” is stumping even the best scientists and medical researchers. And, while historical virus outbreaks may offer precedent, uncertainty is still pervasive, creating complexity for families seeking to make educational decisions, like choosing a college. 

Recently, Warren Buffet’s long time Berkshire Hathaway collaborator, Charlie Munger, who also earned his wisdom being alive for the last 96 years, offered this pith statement in the Wall Street Journal

Nobody in America’s ever seen anything else like this. This thing is different. Everybody talks as if they know what’s going to happen, and nobody knows what’s going to happen.

And, as the WSJ reporter noted: 

…with Berkshire’s vast holdings in railroads, real estate, utilities, insurance and other industries, Mr. Buffett and Mr. Munger may have more and better data on U.S. economic activity than anyone else, with the possible exception of the Federal Reserve. But Mr. Munger wouldn’t even hazard a guess as to how long the downturn might last or how bad it could get.

Yet, in the uncertainty, perhaps the only certainty is continued uncertainty. College administrators are promoting their “intent” to reopen campuses next fall, yet often conditioning their statements with exceptions if public health officials warn against reopening campuses.

Additionally, the “normal” in the above title is also not defined.  It’s no simple task to undo the caution that everyone has adopted and the additional vigilance incorporated into daily habits, like more frequent hand washing or distancing by 6 feet or more to pass others on the street. During the shelter-in-place existence for the past seven weeks, a collective “new normal” has been defined. 

So, its not a wonder that in a recent survey conducted by Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Northeastern University and Rutgers University, individuals indicated continuing to value “social distancing” measures: 

Despite the financial hardships facing people across the country, 93 percent of Americans do not think the economy should reopen immediately — even in states that are currently moving in that direction.

As validated by a second poll, people are still cautious about interacting in crowds or even groups of people, which will hinder any efforts to “reopen”:

People’s caution has also invaded the meme-osphere:

Although individuals remain cautious, the officials who’ll determine when we “return to ‘normal’”, as we discussed last week, will need to coordinate amongst multiple government agencies and will make decisions based on the needs of the local community. So, while communities in one part of a state or the country may “re-open”, others may not. In response, families can study the decisions of civic leaders in the regions where colleges are located, as well as their own home regions to be most informed when making educational decisions. 

Furthermore, researchers predict that additional outbreaks of the virus will likely occur, thus requiring intermittent sheltering-in-place for various lengths of time during the next 18-24 months. Families should remain flexible to shifting educational modalities from in-person instruction to distance learning or vice versa, quickly.

The current pervasive uncertainty is unparalleled in modern history, making long-term planning even more complicated. For families continuing to support college students, as well as trying to plan for younger students to attend college in the next 1-5 years, stay informed, asking educational administrators pointed questions, to be nimble and make decisions as the situation unfolds. Most importantly, through self-reflection, students can discover their aptitude and articulate their values, which serves as a guide for all their educational decisions. 

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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